News & Events

20 February 2024

Pangolins, Policy, and Preservation: Asael Rodriguez's Journey to Kent

Written by Asael Rodriguez, 2023-24 US postgraduate, this article recounts his enriching experiences in Kent, from immersing in cultural history to exploring conservation and wildlife policy.

Kent has been a wonderful experience. I have had the pleasure of visiting several cities along the coast and complete their scenic trails, travel through the downs to count sheep and ponies, but most importantly, it has been amazing to experience the rich culture and history of Canterbury. Additionally, I recently started volunteering with two of our local organizations: Porchlight and Kent Wildlife Trust. I am enjoying my time in England and have met a lot of amazing people. 

I was given my first internship by Gladys Porter Zoo, quite a special introduction to the field of conservation as I got the chance to work with white-bellied pangolins; one of the eight known pangolin species in the world. I’m afraid I will have to disappoint as I cannot begin to describe the feeling I experienced while holding such a fragile creature, not in the sense of attributes or shape, but rather due to the effect that humans have had on them as a species. Pangolins are primarily trafficked for their meat, scales and other body parts; their scales are believed to hold medicinal properties while their meat is considered a delicacy. The realization of our role in the decline of pangolins and biodiversity was a feeling I could not come to terms with; thus, I chose to orient my aspirations to wildlife policy and combating illegal wildlife trade. Illegal wildlife trafficking embodies some of humanities worst qualities such as apathy, greed, cruelty, and ignorance. I think it is important that we combat wildlife trafficking to sustain, protect, and restore biodiversity. My research at the University of Kent is focused on assessing the animal welfare implications of pangolins in wildlife trade as a way to pay tribute to the experience and species that helped me discover my place in science.

My time in the United Kingdom has given me the opportunity to experience conservation through different outlets, just like my experiences in the United States did. One thing is certain between both countries, people care about conservation and nature. Although the US and the UK share common goals of protecting natural habitats, biodiversity, and environmental concerns, there are several key differences to consider such as size, regulations, and organizations. There is a stronger emphasis on preservation and restoration of habitats in the UK when compared to the US, primarily due to the fact that the US must consider a vast number of ecosystems. Both countries differ in their ownership of protected areas as the US collaborates with federal, state, and tribal parties while the UK focuses on national parks, nature reserves, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Additionally, I have had the chance to experience conservation, education, animal welfare, and outreach throughout several zoos across North America and Europe. Zoological facilities hold such as impactful role in science as they prioritize research, conservation, and give opportunities to students. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude to Gladys Porter Zoo in my hometown, Brownsville, TX, as they gave my first opportunity.

This would not have been possible without the support of my friends, family, the University of Kent, and the Fulbright Commission. I currently hold a PhD spot with the University of Kent to conduct research regarding animal welfare and international wildlife trade. I’m excited to find out what’s next!